Advice from phonics experts please

(332 Posts)
phonicsgovernor Thu 28-Nov-13 21:14:40

I am a school governor with a (second) child in reception. Over the past couple of weeks we have had ORT books home that were not fully decodable. They are still in the single letter sound stages of teaching phonics but the books included the words bike, look and dinosaur.

Now, my child is fine - I can access other materials for him. But the school serves quite a deprived area, with higher levels of FSM, SEN, EAL and MENA children. And I'm wondering if there will be children who are not fine.

I spoke to the head of KS1, who is excellent and lovely, and she couldn't see the problem with the odd word not being decodable. So - is it a problem, and if it is, how should I tackle it?

mrz Thu 28-Nov-13 21:35:03

Yes it's a problem if you want children to learn to read accurately and independently. Ask how children are meant to read the words they aren't able to decode yet...

maizieD Thu 28-Nov-13 21:48:34

What exactly does 'the odd word' mean? 'Dinosaur' is just ridiculous.

Have you read the other recent threads on this same topic? There are some children who most emphatically not all right with non-decodable books. As a goverrnor would this concern you?

Why didn't the school use their match funding to buy decodable books? (or did they use it for training?)

How did the Phonics check go this year; have you any idea?

Periwinkle007 Thu 28-Nov-13 21:54:56

out of curiosity what is match funding?

mrz Thu 28-Nov-13 22:01:01

The government said they would match £ for £ the amount schools spent on phonic resources and training up tp the value of £3000

phonicsgovernor Thu 28-Nov-13 22:01:49

I have read many threads on the topic and inwardly digested contributions from both of you (thank you!), which is the reason I'm asking the question. A couple of years ago I would have completely agreed with her.

She said that reading was not just about "barking at text" (I winced at that one), but also context, and engendering a love of reading. Using pictures to help is fine. It's not mixed methods if it's just a few words in each book. It's not like the old days when over half the words in each book wouldn't be decodable.

The school did spend a lot of money on phonics resources a couple of years ago. Lots of the books are fully decodable, but not all. I just don't know how big a problem it is.

ExcuseTypos Thu 28-Nov-13 22:02:19

I work in a school which uses ORT too. However at this stage in YR, they don't take these books home.

They group read, with emphasis on the the teacher reading the words the can't decode.

Surely if the school are still sending the books home, they should be telling parents that the child will not be able to read every word.

Periwinkle007 Thu 28-Nov-13 22:02:58

oh ok - hmm wonder why our school has so few phonics books then.

mrz Thu 28-Nov-13 22:09:42

It certainly is mixed methods ... ORT were written as a look & say scheme and it's pure luck that some of the words are decodable at an early stage. It's very difficult to understand the text if you can't read (decode) the words.

threelittlebigpigs Thu 28-Nov-13 22:11:08

I have similar problem as my child has just brought home his first school reading book this week. It has words like bike, friends, party and cake which are not easily decodable with the phonics he has learnt so far. We have done some phonics at home and have been reading Read Write Inc books for a little while. My son is used to being able to decode the words in those books much more easily because I make sure we use the appropriate ones for the phonics he has learnt. I am now a bit confused about how to approach the school books. Is it best to teach the phonics knowledge required for each word in the book that he can't decode at this stage, before we read the book? Or do it as we come across a difficult word? Any thoughts welcome.

mrz Thu 28-Nov-13 22:11:23

The funding ended last month but has been available for since April 2011

PaperMover Thu 28-Nov-13 22:12:29

Yes, what IS the way to tackle this? Whatever it is I will try to do the same.

mrz Thu 28-Nov-13 22:22:51

At this stage I would probably just tell him the "bit" of phonic knowledge he needs to decode each word as he meets it so that he can then decode the word.

so in the word party he might know /p/ & /t/ so I would tell him /ar/ and /ee/ so he can use the info to blend /p/ /ar/ /t/ /ee/

phonicsgovernor Thu 28-Nov-13 22:34:44

I don't have a problem with helping DS. I can find him other books and help him with sounds he doesn't know. But I am not representative of most parents at the school.

Can you point me in the direction of guidance and/or research that will help me make my argument?

threelittlebigpigs Thu 28-Nov-13 22:44:55

Thanks mrz that's helpful. I shall stick to that approach then. He has already tried to resort to a random guessing of the word by looking at the picture strategy, which was filling me with fear.

phonicsgovernor Thu 28-Nov-13 22:53:23

Yeah, DS did that with "dinosaur". That was when I switched to Songbirds.

mrz Fri 29-Nov-13 07:06:29

Look at the new Primary Curriculum ogramme of study for English .. phonics will be statutoryom 2014

mrz Fri 29-Nov-13 07:08:02
meditrina Fri 29-Nov-13 07:18:18

"barking at text" is a far more apt description of sight learning - as you have to learn the shape, be told the sound, and regurgitate ('bark') it on sight in future. anyone who uses it to describe phonic based decoding probably doesn't understand phonics terribly well themselves.

Phonics decoding is however a rapid way to learn to access any written word - and you only have to look at the architecture of computer-based games to see how much children like this approach (solve one level, move on to next, but still use all the skills from earlier level).

And do not let anyone confuse the issue by talking about using a wide variety of other literacy materials. This is not incompatible with phonics, and in the hands of a good teacher all aspects of literacy are fostered (in exactly the same way as using sight-reading materials containing words pupils have not yet learned to 'bark'). It is simply that you refrain from using them to teach the specific skill of accessing text. Again, I think it is unconfident teachers who have misunderstood what a (centuries-old) phonics approach actually is.

columngollum Fri 29-Nov-13 09:03:48

Barking at text is what sight learning isn't. If you know that you live at house number 9 you don't walk into house number 7. Do you? If you know that dog is one sort of animal then when you see that word you don't think of cat or dinosaur. Either of which might also be in the picture.

maizieD Fri 29-Nov-13 09:47:00

'Barking at text' is one of those myths which has become all pervasive over many (in this case about 150!) years. It has no evidence whatsoever in reading research. I think I have traced its origins back to 19th century 'educators' (middle class to a man) who were horrified by the expressionless reading of working class children in schools. Having themselves been trained to read with 'expression' (remember, reading aloud was a valued social skill in those days) they couldn't believe that the children they were hearing could possibly be understanding what they were reading.

As we all know nowadays (or should know) 'comprehension' (as indicated by expressive reading aloud) is a language skill; dependent on a childs receptive and expressive vocabulary. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the method by which a child is taught to read, though clearly a child that has to guess its way through a text isn't likely to be understanding very much of what it is reading.

FWIW There were plenty of girls at my 1960s Grammar School whose reading aloud skills were non exsistent. This didn't mean that they weren't understanding what they were reading...

phonicsgovernor Fri 29-Nov-13 10:20:59

Thanks mrz - I'll take a look at that. Statutory sounds like a particularly useful lever!

I completely agree about the barking at text thing - I was really surprised that this teacher said it, because she really is excellent. Although by her own admission, not a phonics specialist. DS2 found the first books he got quite frustrating. Because the words were a bit too hard, he couldn't remember the start of a sentence by the time he reached the end, so he didn't understand it. It was making him cross and frustrated. Then we switched to Songbirds, and within a week he is reading (very simple) sentences fluently, with comprehension and expression. It's really boosted his confidence. And it's true reading, not just sounding out.

meditrina Fri 29-Nov-13 10:31:58

I think colloumgollum's example is exactly barking at print - the child sees a canine and has to bark the word: which could be say 'dog' 'pet' 'sit!' or the animal's name. And would have no way of working out whether a sentence was say 'This is a pet' or 'He pats Bob' or 'The dog is big', unless that had been trained by rote to see and repeat ie bark.

maverick Fri 29-Nov-13 10:33:52

In Oct 2010 the DfE introduced a revised set of criteria for synthetic phonics programmes. It included advice on early texts to practise reading: '(E)nsure that as pupils move through the early stages of acquiring phonics, they are invited to practise by reading texts which are entirely decodable for them, so that they experience success and learn to rely on phonemic strategies. It is important that texts are of the appropriate level for children to apply and practise the phonic knowledge and skills that they have learnt. Children should not be expected to use strategies such as whole-word recognition and/or cues from context, grammar, or pictures.'
dfe.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/pedagogy/teachingstyles/phonics/a0010240/criteria-for-assuring-high-quality-phonic-work

The new National Curriculum, statutory in maintained schools from September 2014, states that pupils in Y1 should ''read aloud accurately books that are consistent with their developing phonic knowledge and that do not require them to use other strategies to work out words''. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210969/NC_framework_document_-_FINAL.pdf

phonicsgovernor Fri 29-Nov-13 10:49:32

Statutory requirement from new curriculum: Pupils should be taught to read aloud accurately books that are consistent with their developing phonic knowledge and that do not require them to use other strategies to work out words.

Thanks so much mrz - this will be my starting point.

I'm assuming that the counter-argument will be that we can't afford to replace all the non-phonic books, and that no real harm is being done by the odd non-phonic word. I know they work really hard to make the budget work, and we don't have a PTA to fundraise. Does anyone have links to research showing that a significant proportion of children are failed by mixed methods? And any suggestions for how to work within the materials we have? (I don't know what proportion of the books are non-phonic - that will be one of the questions I ask.)

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